India overpass collapse kills 14; scores feared trapped

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) – An overpass under construction in the bustling Indian city of Kolkata collapsed on Thursday on to vehicles and street vendors below, killing at least 14 people with more than 100 people feared trapped.

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - An overpass under construction in the bustling Indian city of Kolkata collapsed on Thursday on to vehicles and street vendors below, killing at least 14 people with more than 100 people feared trapped.

Where’s the lane? Self-driving cars confused by shabby U.S. roadways

LOS ANGELES Volvo’s North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker’s semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show.”It can’t find the lane markings!” Kerssemake…

LOS ANGELES Volvo's North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker's semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

"It can't find the lane markings!" Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. "You need to paint the bloody roads here!"

Shoddy infrastructure has become a roadblock to the development of self-driving cars, vexing engineers and adding time and cost. Poor markings and uneven signage on the 3 million miles of paved roads in the United States are forcing automakers to develop more sophisticated sensors and maps to compensate, industry executives say.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently called the mundane issue of faded lane markings "crazy," complaining they confused his semi-autonomous cars.

An estimated 65 percent of U.S. roads are in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the transportation infrastructure system rated 12th in the World Economic Forum's 2014-2015 global competitiveness report.

Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi (VOWG_p.DE) and others are fielding vehicles that can drive on highways, change lanes and park without human help. But they are easily flummoxed by faded lane markers, damaged or noncompliant signs or lights, and the many quirks of a roadway infrastructure managed by thousands of state and local bureaucracies.

In other developed countries, greater standardization of road signs and markings makes it easier for robot cars to navigate. In the U.S., however, traffic lights can be aligned vertically, horizontally or "dog-house" style in two columns. Pavement markings use paint with different degrees of reflectivity - or don't exist at all.

"If the lane fades, all hell breaks loose," said Christoph Mertz, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. "But cars have to handle these weird circumstances and have three different ways of doing things in case one fails."

MORE SENSORS, MORE COST

To make up for roadway aberrations, carmakers and their suppliers are incorporating multiple sensors, maps and data into their cars, all of which adds cost.

Mercedes says the "drive pilot" system found in its recently unveiled luxury E Class 2017 sedans works even with no lane markings. The system - which incorporates 23 sensors - takes into account guard rails, barriers, and other cars to keep cars in their lanes up to 84 miles (135km) per hour, under "suitable circumstances."

Boston Consulting Group estimates that initial semi-autonomous features add $4,000 to a car's price. It estimated carmakers will have to spend more than $1 billion over the next decade in research investment for even more sophisticated autonomous features.

On a good road in daylight, cameras installed around a car are sufficient to distinguish road lines, traffic lights and signs. But without lane markings, the car needs more technology to judge its position.

Enter radar and lidar, which send out radio waves or light pulses to bounce off objects. The data sent back informs the car about objects, their distance and velocity. Triangulating between trees to the right, boulders to the left, and other vehicles ahead, for instance, can give the car its bearings.

A host of companies - including Silicon Valley firms Quanergy and Velodyne and international suppliers like Paris-based Valeo - are vying to reduce the cost and size of lidar from the bulky, $75,000 Velodyne version first seen on the roof of Google's self-driving car.

In January, Quanergy unveiled a small $250 Lidar with no moving parts. Automakers want the price to drop below $100 for production vehicles, which Quanergy promises to do by 2018.

Sub-par roads are fueling efforts by companies such as Germany's HERE and Dutch company TomTom to create three dimensional maps that can provide the car's location on the road within centimeters, said Chris Warrington, CEO of mapping technology company GeoDigital.

Automakers are looking to pay $50-$60 per car for such maps, which may be well below the actual price, said Warrington.

"We know they're coming, but they don't exist yet. That's why lane markings are so important now," said Gary O'Brien, director of advanced engineering for automotive supplier Delphi Automotive Systems PLC.

O'Brien snaps photos of bad roads when he travels.

"Look at this, there are no lane markings at all!" O'Brien said, showing a picture he took on a desert road in Bluff, Utah where the demarcation between the road and ground is barely visible.

"MAKE UP YOUR MIND!"

Some officials envision traffic signals that communicate with cars at dangerous intersections and vehicles that can signal each other their positions, direction and speed.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's "Smart City Challenge," a competitive grant program, will offer up to $40 million this summer to help one city integrate new technologies, which could include infrastructure for self-driving cars.

The Transportation Research Board, an independent group that advises the government, plans to issue recommendations for standardized lane markings for machine vision by 2017. By then, several automakers say they plan to offer models with some form of autonomous highway driving.

Paul Carlson, a research engineer focused on infrastructure at Texas A&M University, said he gets calls from transportation officials asking how to accommodate robot cars.

He tells them to aim for consistency: "Make up your mind, people! Do you want your traffic lights vertical or horizontal?"

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage)



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Where’s the lane? Self-driving cars confused by shabby U.S. roadways

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Volvo’s North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker’s semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Volvo's North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker's semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Hundreds of thousands protest at French labor reforms

PARIS (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of workers and high-school students joined protest marches across France on Wednesday to challenge plans to loosen the country’s protective labor laws that unions say favor businesses.

PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of workers and high-school students joined protest marches across France on Wednesday to challenge plans to loosen the country's protective labor laws that unions say favor businesses.

Kremlin denies report of Russia-U.S. deal on Assad’s future

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Thursday that a report by the al-Hayat newspaper on an agreement between Russia and the United States on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not true.

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Thursday that a report by the al-Hayat newspaper on an agreement between Russia and the United States on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not true.

The property manager and Putin’s friends


LONDON/MOSCOW A little-known Russian businessman from St Petersburg has provided properties to multiple women who share one common theme: President Vladimir Putin.

One of the women is Putin’s younger daughter; two are close relatives of a woman Russian media have reported to be Putin’s girlfriend – though the president has strongly denied any relationship.  And a fourth is a student who posed for a calendar celebrating the president’s birthday. All of the properties are in upmarket gated complexes in and around Moscow.

Public records show Grigory Baevsky, a 47-year-old business associate of an old friend of Putin, sold or transferred the properties to three of the women. In the other case, Putin’s younger child, Katerina Tikhonova, used the address of a flat owned by Baevsky as her own when registering a new company.

The connections add to the picture of individuals in Putin’s wider circle and the way these people blur the lines between public and private business.

Last year, Reuters reported that Putin’s daughter Tikhonova, who holds a senior position at Moscow State University, is personally advised by some of Putin’s oldest friends. She is also married to Kirill Shamalov, son of billionaire Nikolai Shamalov, an associate of Putin’s.

READ MORE: Comrade Capitalism: How Russia does business in the Putin era

Baevsky has worked as an aide to another close friend of Putin, his judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg.

Public records show that companies co-owned by Baevsky have benefited from state construction contracts worth at least 6 billion rubles ($89 million) in the past two years.

Baevsky has previously attracted little attention. His connection to Putin was uncovered by investigative journalist Roman Anin who was conducting research for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an East European media network.

Baevsky is a former property manager for a state company in St Petersburg. In 2006, he founded a dacha cooperative near the city with Arkady Rotenberg and Rotenberg’s brother Boris, public records show.

Baevsky went into business with the Rotenbergs in 2011, working until 2014 as a director at Arkady Rotenberg’s investment vehicle, the Russian Holding company, according to corporate filings. Public records also show he was declared as an ‘affiliated person’ of SMP Bank, which is majority-owned by the brothers.

Arkady Rotenberg was among the first Russian businessmen to be put under Western visa bans and asset freezes over Moscow’s seizure of Crimea. According to the U.S. Treasury, Rotenberg and his brother Boris have won billions of dollars from projects awarded to them by Putin. The brothers have denied getting help from the Russian leader for their businesses.

Reuters sent questions about the property deals to Baevsky’s last known home address, and to businesses owned by him, but received no response.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters: “We know nothing about who this (Baevsky) is. The President is also not acquainted with him.”

Separately, Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the Kremlin was facing a series of queries from international media about Putin’s relationship with his childhood friends and their receipt of state contracts. He said he would not comment because the Kremlin believes the articles are part of a politically-motivated campaign to discredit Putin.

A spokesman for Rotenberg said the businessman had no information about Baevsky’s property deals. Asked if Baevsky was acting on behalf of Rotenberg in his property dealings, or if they were related to Rotenberg’s friendship with Putin, Rotenberg’s spokesman said: “Of course not. Such declarations are absurd.” The spokesman said Baevsky “does not work” for any Arkady Rotenberg company or holding.

 

STUPID QUESTIONS?

The role of Baevsky emerged when the OCCRP – which is funded by the Open Society Institute, USAID, and the Swiss government, among others – discovered that a woman called Katerina Tikhonova declared her home to be an apartment owned by the businessman. Tikhonova, as Reuters reported last year, is Putin’s 29-year-old daughter. In November 2012, she used the apartment’s address when she filed papers to register herself as co-founder and owner of a private company called Interdisciplinary Initiatives Foundation in Natural Sciences and Humanities.

Reuters has reviewed the Tikhonova company registration papers, and public documents confirm the flat is owned by Baevsky. It is not known whether Tikhonova lived at the flat or paid any rent there. The flat is around 6.5 km (4 miles) from Putin’s official residence.

Tikhonova did not respond to questions about her use of the address.

RECOMMENDED: When mobsters meet hackers – the new, improved bank heist

In addition to the Tikhonova deal, public records show that in 2013 Baevsky transferred ownership of a home and plot of land in a pine forest at Uspenskoe in the Moscow region to Anna Zatsepilina. The neighborhood is one of the most expensive in Russia.

Zatsepilina is the 81-year-old grandmother of Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast and public supporter of Putin. In 2008 the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent named Kabaeva as Putin’s girlfriend. Putin has rejected the assertion and Reuters could not independently confirm it. The newspaper closed soon after the article appeared.

Zatsepilina could not be reached for comment. The Uspenskoe home sits within a gated community and is protected by security guards, who denied access to Reuters and declined to help contact any of its residents.

In an earlier deal, in 2009, public records show that Baevsky transferred ownership of an apartment in Veresaeva Street in the Moscow suburbs to Leysan Kabaeva. She is the sister of Alina, the former gymnast.

Asked about how she came to acquire the property from Baevsky, a spokeswoman for a company owned and run by Leysan Kabaeva declined to comment.

Asked about Alina Kabaeva’s relationship with Putin and about Baevsky’s dealings with her relatives, a spokeswoman for the former gymnast said:  “They are all adults, answer to themselves, and live their own lives. Alina Maratovna Kabaeva is not connected to a single one of these questions.”

Last year Baevsky transferred another apartment in a smart gated complex in Moscow to Alisa Kharcheva, a 23-year-old former international relations student. The sale price was not disclosed.

In 2010, a group of students and would-be students from Moscow State University created a calendar to celebrate Putin’s birthday. The calendar featured pictures of themselves; Kharcheva starred on the month of April. Two years later, Kharcheva posed with a cat and a photograph of the president in a personal blog post entitled “Pussy for Putin,” which extolled the president’s leadership. The blog post also featured her entry from the 2010 calendar.

Asked how she came to buy a flat from Baevsky, Kharcheva said the transaction was a normal one conducted through a real estate agency. She said she did not know the businessman.  “We bought this flat with a mortgage. And we pay that mortgage to this day.” Asked if any connection to Putin had helped her obtain the flat from Baevsky, she replied: “No one has ever asked me such stupid questions.”

(This version of the story corrects spelling of Maratovna in second section)

 

(Additional reporting by Anthony Carter and Winnie Agbonlahor; Edited by Richard Woods and Simon Robinson)

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LONDON/MOSCOW A little-known Russian businessman from St Petersburg has provided properties to multiple women who share one common theme: President Vladimir Putin.

One of the women is Putin's younger daughter; two are close relatives of a woman Russian media have reported to be Putin's girlfriend – though the president has strongly denied any relationship.  And a fourth is a student who posed for a calendar celebrating the president's birthday. All of the properties are in upmarket gated complexes in and around Moscow.

Public records show Grigory Baevsky, a 47-year-old business associate of an old friend of Putin, sold or transferred the properties to three of the women. In the other case, Putin's younger child, Katerina Tikhonova, used the address of a flat owned by Baevsky as her own when registering a new company.

The connections add to the picture of individuals in Putin's wider circle and the way these people blur the lines between public and private business.

Last year, Reuters reported that Putin's daughter Tikhonova, who holds a senior position at Moscow State University, is personally advised by some of Putin's oldest friends. She is also married to Kirill Shamalov, son of billionaire Nikolai Shamalov, an associate of Putin's.

READ MORE: Comrade Capitalism: How Russia does business in the Putin era

Baevsky has worked as an aide to another close friend of Putin, his judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg.

Public records show that companies co-owned by Baevsky have benefited from state construction contracts worth at least 6 billion rubles ($89 million) in the past two years.

Baevsky has previously attracted little attention. His connection to Putin was uncovered by investigative journalist Roman Anin who was conducting research for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an East European media network.

Baevsky is a former property manager for a state company in St Petersburg. In 2006, he founded a dacha cooperative near the city with Arkady Rotenberg and Rotenberg's brother Boris, public records show.

Baevsky went into business with the Rotenbergs in 2011, working until 2014 as a director at Arkady Rotenberg's investment vehicle, the Russian Holding company, according to corporate filings. Public records also show he was declared as an 'affiliated person' of SMP Bank, which is majority-owned by the brothers.

Arkady Rotenberg was among the first Russian businessmen to be put under Western visa bans and asset freezes over Moscow's seizure of Crimea. According to the U.S. Treasury, Rotenberg and his brother Boris have won billions of dollars from projects awarded to them by Putin. The brothers have denied getting help from the Russian leader for their businesses.

Reuters sent questions about the property deals to Baevsky's last known home address, and to businesses owned by him, but received no response.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters: "We know nothing about who this (Baevsky) is. The President is also not acquainted with him."

Separately, Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the Kremlin was facing a series of queries from international media about Putin's relationship with his childhood friends and their receipt of state contracts. He said he would not comment because the Kremlin believes the articles are part of a politically-motivated campaign to discredit Putin.

A spokesman for Rotenberg said the businessman had no information about Baevsky's property deals. Asked if Baevsky was acting on behalf of Rotenberg in his property dealings, or if they were related to Rotenberg's friendship with Putin, Rotenberg's spokesman said: "Of course not. Such declarations are absurd." The spokesman said Baevsky "does not work" for any Arkady Rotenberg company or holding.

 

STUPID QUESTIONS?

The role of Baevsky emerged when the OCCRP – which is funded by the Open Society Institute, USAID, and the Swiss government, among others – discovered that a woman called Katerina Tikhonova declared her home to be an apartment owned by the businessman. Tikhonova, as Reuters reported last year, is Putin's 29-year-old daughter. In November 2012, she used the apartment's address when she filed papers to register herself as co-founder and owner of a private company called Interdisciplinary Initiatives Foundation in Natural Sciences and Humanities.

Reuters has reviewed the Tikhonova company registration papers, and public documents confirm the flat is owned by Baevsky. It is not known whether Tikhonova lived at the flat or paid any rent there. The flat is around 6.5 km (4 miles) from Putin's official residence.

Tikhonova did not respond to questions about her use of the address.

RECOMMENDED: When mobsters meet hackers - the new, improved bank heist

In addition to the Tikhonova deal, public records show that in 2013 Baevsky transferred ownership of a home and plot of land in a pine forest at Uspenskoe in the Moscow region to Anna Zatsepilina. The neighborhood is one of the most expensive in Russia.

Zatsepilina is the 81-year-old grandmother of Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast and public supporter of Putin. In 2008 the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent named Kabaeva as Putin's girlfriend. Putin has rejected the assertion and Reuters could not independently confirm it. The newspaper closed soon after the article appeared.

Zatsepilina could not be reached for comment. The Uspenskoe home sits within a gated community and is protected by security guards, who denied access to Reuters and declined to help contact any of its residents.

In an earlier deal, in 2009, public records show that Baevsky transferred ownership of an apartment in Veresaeva Street in the Moscow suburbs to Leysan Kabaeva. She is the sister of Alina, the former gymnast.

Asked about how she came to acquire the property from Baevsky, a spokeswoman for a company owned and run by Leysan Kabaeva declined to comment.

Asked about Alina Kabaeva's relationship with Putin and about Baevsky's dealings with her relatives, a spokeswoman for the former gymnast said:  "They are all adults, answer to themselves, and live their own lives. Alina Maratovna Kabaeva is not connected to a single one of these questions."

Last year Baevsky transferred another apartment in a smart gated complex in Moscow to Alisa Kharcheva, a 23-year-old former international relations student. The sale price was not disclosed.

In 2010, a group of students and would-be students from Moscow State University created a calendar to celebrate Putin's birthday. The calendar featured pictures of themselves; Kharcheva starred on the month of April. Two years later, Kharcheva posed with a cat and a photograph of the president in a personal blog post entitled "Pussy for Putin," which extolled the president's leadership. The blog post also featured her entry from the 2010 calendar.

Asked how she came to buy a flat from Baevsky, Kharcheva said the transaction was a normal one conducted through a real estate agency. She said she did not know the businessman.  "We bought this flat with a mortgage. And we pay that mortgage to this day." Asked if any connection to Putin had helped her obtain the flat from Baevsky, she replied: "No one has ever asked me such stupid questions."

(This version of the story corrects spelling of Maratovna in second section)

 

(Additional reporting by Anthony Carter and Winnie Agbonlahor; Edited by Richard Woods and Simon Robinson)



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Trump sounds off on abortion; criticism comes from all sides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said on Wednesday that women who end pregnancies should face punishment if the United States bans abortion, triggering a torrent of criticism from both sides of the abortion debat…

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said on Wednesday that women who end pregnancies should face punishment if the United States bans abortion, triggering a torrent of criticism from both sides of the abortion debate, including from his White House rivals.

U.S. says it will not recognize South China Sea exclusion zone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has told China it will not recognize an exclusion zone in the South China Sea and would view such a move as “destabilizing,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has told China it will not recognize an exclusion zone in the South China Sea and would view such a move as "destabilizing," U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said on Wednesday.